The NBA Draft is almost here, which means it’s time for my now annual coverage of draft prospects by their numbers. Due to my responsibilities covering the NBA and my general distaste for college basketball, I don’t watch a ton of NCAA ball, especially live (I tend to rewatch games of prospects I’m interested in the months leading up to the draft). Therefore, my general analysis is usually based on statistics, whatever film I’ve seen on the prospects, and the opinions of draft analysts and scouts who I trust. With that disclaimer done, let’s look at the point guards of this class.
I’m not going to go in-depth on my analysis of point guard statistics, as I’ve done so in previous years. Suffice to say, points and assists per game are, at best, unimportant for point guards entering the NBA. If anything, these numbers are negatively correlated with NBA success. This doesn’t mean that a point guard who averages a lot of points and assists per game is a bad NBA prospect. It just means I don’t take those numbers as being as important as other stats. Namely, steals, three point shots made, and true shooting (scoring efficiency) all mark out as highly positive correlators of NBA success (through Win Shares, VORP, and BPM). Therefore, those are the numbers I look most closely at when evaluating point guard prospects. I don’t really know why the Clippers would draft a point guard when they already have their point guard of the future in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as well as a plethora of other guards and ball-handlers, but they’ve been mocked to draft points guards, so who knows. All that said, here’s the point guard class of 2019, taken from ESPN’s top 100 big board. As always, the numbers are averaged from the prospects’ last two years in college, if they’ve played two or more years.
2019 Point Guard Prospects
The first disclaimer I must make is that by my work, Darius Garland grades out as, by far, the best point guard prospect in this class. Unfortunately, he only played five games at Vanderbilt before missing the rest of the season due to injury, and only one of those games was against decent competition. Therefore, his numbers have to be taken with a massive grain of salt.
Second, none of these prospects truly jump off the page. Two seasons ago, Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and Dennis Smith Jr. all seemed like legitimately top-tier point guard prospects. Last year, Trae Young was can’t miss, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was an excellent prospect as well. None of the point guards this year come even close to any of those guys, by the numbers. It’s the first sign, of which we will see more in the coming weeks, of how weak this draft class is. There will be good point guards from this class, but as of right now, none of them are projected to be anything more than decent role players, or maybe average starters. However, some of the best prospects by the models should provide excellent value considering where they’re projected to be drafted.
Justin Wright-Foreman: Wright-Foreman’s numbers are eye-popping. He was the second-leading scorer in the NCAA at 27.1 points per game, no fluke considering he averaged over 24 the year before. Even though he played at Hofstra and faced mostly subpar opposition, his raw production can’t be denied. Most impressively, he scored 27 points per game at ridiculous efficiency, in large part due to hitting over 3 threes per game. His low assist numbers might worry, but having watched two of his games, he seems to have pretty solid vision and passing ability. He was simply relied upon to score a lot due to the limitations of his teammates, and did so with aplomb. The one red flag with JWF are his low steals numbers, but I would look past that due to the rest of his resume. He’s currently projected to be drafted late in the 2nd round, or not at all, and I think he’s worth an early 2nd at least. He’s also been mocked to the Clippers already, which is encouraging.
Tremont Waters: Let’s get this out of the way: Waters is old-ish for a prospect and mighty undersized at 5’11, 175. He’s highly unlikely to become a starting level point guard for these reasons, especially as he’s not a great shooter off the dribble. Waters is, however, one of the better “pure” point guards in the class, a capable ball-handler and passer who can truly run an offense. Waters was the leader of an LSU team that went to the Sweet 16 despite some injuries, and his play was a big reason why. He has enough shooting ability to be a threat from distance, and his high steals rate bodes well for his functional athleticism. Waters is not an exciting pick, but he seems like a fairly safe bet to be a quality backup point guard, and for a guy who’s projected for the middle of the second round, that’s good value.
Shamorie Ponds: Ponds is a slightly larger, better scoring version of Waters, and is similarly interesting due to his high steal rate, solid three-point shooting, and decent efficiency on high usage. He’s a bit pudgy, which could be an issue, but it could also make him more effective once he gets professional level nutrition and conditioning. Ponds is another player who doesn’t possess a ton of upside to me, but is a good bet to have a legitimate NBA career, which is all you can ask for in the 2nd round.
Jordan Bone: Bone is a classic draft riser. He tested extremely well at the NBA Combine, being perhaps the most purely athletic player at the event. He’s quick, has explosive leaping ability, and can make jaw-dropping athletic plays. The problem is that that athleticism doesn’t seem to show up in games – his steal rate is extremely low, and he barely averaged any blocks despite his height and athleticism. If you can’t utilize athleticism to do basketball activities, it’s not much good. The positives for Bone are that he’s improved his scoring efficiency and three point shooting each year at Tennessee, and was pretty solid his last year. ESPN had him going at 57, which is lower than it seemed like he’d go at the combine, but I’d be wary of him even that late. There are better, more skilled point guards in the second round.
This point guard class isn’t great, lacking truly high-end talent (I like Ja, Garland, and Coby, but not as stars), but is deep, with several guys projected in the second round who I think can be quality NBA players. In addition to Wright-Foreman, Waters, and Ponds, Justin Robinson is another name I like, and would be happy with at 48 or 56. I don’t think the Clippers really have a need at point guard, but if they’re drafting for the best available player and select one of these guys, they will have done well.